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The percentage of women involved in free and open source software is very low. This is a well-known fact, yet the groups that should be open and welcoming are often those who, subtly and not-so-subtly, often send out messages that are far from welcoming.

A few days back, I came across the following pictures at the site of the Linux Professional Institute, an organisation that offers certification in Linux at various levels.

The subliminal message sent by the pictures is pretty strong. Take the plug for the lowest level certification, LPIC1. It has a picture of a woman (above)  accompanying it.

The plug for LPIC2 has a picture of a black man.

But the plug for LPIC3, the highest level, has a white man as its face.
linuxpi two
A picture, somebody once said, speaks a thousand words. What kind of message are these pictures sending to those who visit the LPI site for information?

Did someone think for a moment before deciding on what should illustrate the ads for various courses?

To my mind, the message is one of exclusion. Women? Oh, they are lightweights, they can manage the low-level course, but nothing beyond that.
linuxpi three
Blacks? We need to include them, but not at the highest level. Put them somewhere in the middle. Can't be accused of exclusion, now, can we?

The top? That's reserved for the white man. Can't turn off a substantial market segment by using any other illustration, can we?

The LPI is the last place that should be reinforcing stereotypes. That it does so in 2014 is a sorry commentary on the attitudes still prevalent in the FOSS community.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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